Competency B

Environments. Each graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science program is able to describe and compare organizational settings in which information professionals practice.

Introduction

Libraries are service organizations; they exist to provide information services to their user base. The modus operandi of libraries and other information organizations is dependent on the user needs, which, in turn, are conditioned by the environment in which these users live. For that reason, in addition to individual development as professional ecosystems in and of themselves (Walter, 2008), libraries truly thrive only when fully embracing their stance within the environment in which they operate.

In their discussion of organizational environment, Evans and Alire talk about libraries and information organizations having a tripartite environment. “As such, first, there is the internal library environment, over which managers have or should have reasonably good control,” the authors maintain. “Second, there is the parent organizational environment, over which librarians may have some, if small, influence. Third, there is the environment beyond the parent institution, over which almost no one has control. All three environments require monitoring if the library is to be successful” (2013, p. 36). This approach is applicable, to one extent or another, to all four traditional types of libraries, be it academic libraries, public libraries, special libraries, or school libraries. Below, organizational environments of the first three types of libraries are analyzed in brief, with emphasis on the institutions’ mission.

Academic libraries

“The academic library does not have an independent purpose; its functions are directly related to the larger academic institution in which it is embedded,” states Rubin. “Its primary purpose is to serve the students and faculty and to a lesser extent, the administration and staff, with perhaps limited service to the local community” (2010, p. 200). The mission of academic library is therefore heavily influenced by, and closely aligned to, the mission of its parent institution. The mission of USC Libraries, for example, is dedicated to the success of the parent institution, University of Southern California:

  • The USC Libraries actively support the discovery, creation, and preservation of knowledge. We develop collections and services that support and encourage the academic endeavors of faculty, students, and staff; build a community of critical consumers of information; and help develop engaged world citizens. Through these means, we contribute to the continued success of the University of Southern California.
  • The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit. The principal means by which our mission is accomplished are teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice and selected forms of public service.

The organizational environment of academic library, however, is not limited to the parent university. The environment beyond the parent institution may include the academic network, professional associations, library consortia, and, of most relevance to public universities which are dependent upon public funding—the community at large. These environmental variables, in turn, influence the academic library mission. Being part of the California State University network, for example, calls for the SJSU Library mission alignment not only to the mission of its parent institution, San José State University, but to the CSU network mission, as well:

  • San José State University’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library supports the University’s guiding principles of Spartan Pride, Unbounded Learning, Helping and Caring, Agility through Technology, and 21st Century Spaces by facilitating student learning and success, faculty teaching, research and scholarship, community engagement and creative uses of technology. In partnership with the San Jose Public Library, we provide all library users with access to information and learning resources in digital and print formats and foster lifelong learning opportunities for the entire community.
  • SJSU mission statement: In collaboration with nearby industries and communities, SJSU faculty and staff are dedicated to achieving the university’ s mission as a responsive institution of the state of California: To enrich the lives of its students, to transmit knowledge to its students along with the necessary skills for applying it in the service of our society, and to expand the base of knowledge through research and scholarship.
  • CSU mission statement:
    • To advance and extend knowledge, learning, and culture, especially throughout California.
    • To provide opportunities for individuals to develop intellectually, personally, and professionally.
    • To prepare significant numbers of educated, responsible people to contribute to California’s schools, economy, culture, and future.
    • To encourage and provide access to an excellent education to all who are prepared for and wish to participate in collegiate study.
    • To offer undergraduate and graduate instruction leading to bachelor’s and higher degrees in the liberal arts and sciences, the applied fields, and the professions, including the doctoral degree when authorized.
    • To prepare students for international, multi-cultural society.
    • To provide public services that enrich the university and its communities.

The above examples demonstrate that, while broadly aligned to the the network’s mission and encouraging community engagement, the academic library mission remains focused primarily on the internal institutional needs—serving the students and faculty of the parent university, whereas the parent institution’s and the network’s missions expand their scope further, to include contributions to the economy, communities, and culture of the entire state of California.

Public libraries

“Public libraries are not tied as closely to a specific institution as academic libraries are, and therefore, they do not have as many generalizations about their organizations,” Kaarst-Brown, Nicholson and Stanton observe. “These libraries support the needs of their local communities, and thus the collections, services, and policies reflect the communities and local boards of directors that they serve” (2004, p. 42). Public libraries are part of municipal operating system and report to the city, as well as the citizens of the local government. Public library funding often depends on the voters. These two factors shift the focus of public library missions from the internal library environment onto the environment beyond the parent institution. The mission statement of my local library, LAPL, can serve as an example of the community service-oriented focus:

  • Los Angeles Public Library mission statement: The Los Angeles Public Library provides free and easy access to information, ideas, books and technology that enrich, educate and empower every individual in our city’s diverse communities.

Special libraries

Special libraries exist to meet the needs of specific organizations, in specific fields of inquiry. Examples of special libraries include corporate libraries, medical libraries, law libraries, etc. They operate “under policies set by the parent organization and must answer directly to the needs of the parent organization; this can cause dramatic swings in collection policy and areas of expenditure when the library must change to meet the needs of a rapidly changing parent organization,” Kaarst-Brown, Nicholson and Stanton maintain. “These libraries have to be very outward focused. In order to succeed in the parent organization, they need to make sure they meet the needs and are visible and esteemed members of the organization. Success is judged by the repeated use of library services. Failure to meet the needs of the members of the organization can result in library budgets being severely reduced in lean times” (2004, p. 42). Consequently, special library’s mission must be closely tied to the mission of its parent organization. Special libraries have to be very flexible, following the shifts in the parent institutions’ priorities; some have to adapt to change by adopting new mission statements. Evidence 4 below, Nonprofit Sector: Survival of the Fittest, provides an example of such adaptation.

Evidence

To support my skills in this competency, I present the following examples of my work:

  1. The Tripartite Environment in Libraries discussion post from LIBR 204 (Information Organizations and Management)
  2. My part of the group presentation, Academic Libraries: Perspectives on the Information Organization, from LIBR 200 (Information and Society)
  3. The Library Organizations and Their Designs discussion post from LIBR 204 (Information Organizations and Management)
  4. The paper I wrote for the MPA 660 class (Public Administration Integrative Seminar) at California State University, Northridge, Nonprofit Sector: Survival of the Fittest

LIBR 204 Tripartite Environment in Libraries discussion

The first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency B is a discussion post from LIBR 204 (Information Organizations and Management). In this discussion, I reflect on how monitoring all three organizational environments—the internal library environment, the parent organizational environment, and the external environment—contributes to libraries’ success. Issues covered in this post include strategic planning, budgeting, environmental scanning, and evaluation. This piece of evidence showcases my understanding of the organizational settings in public and academic libraries, and the importance of acknowledging the external factors influencing organizations beyond their internal boundaries.

Click here to read the paper.

LIBR 200 Academic Libraries: Perspectives on the Information Organization (my part of the group presentation)

The second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency B is my part of the Academic Libraries: Perspectives on the Information Organization group presentation from LIBR 200 (Information and Society). In this project, I worked with four of my classmates to prepare an overview of key issues, concerns, users, and trends in academic libraries. My part of the group presentation explores academic library as part of a larger organization, as well as part of network of organizations that serve a shared community of users. During my work on this assignment, I gained knowledge about the impact of the relationships between the library and the parent organization, and between the library and its network of related institutions—on the library mission, as well as on the operational aspects of the library, services offered, and information policies.

Click here to view the PowerPoint of my part of the group presentation.

LIBR 204 Library Organizations and Their Designs discussion

The third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency B is a discussion post Library Organizations and Their Designs from LIBR 204 (Information Organizations and Management). In this post, I conduct comparative analysis of organizational charts of two types of libraries—a public university network library (California Digital Library) and a small public library (Bubank Public Library). My multi-criteria analysis revealed both similarities and differences in their organizational structures; the criteria include autonomy levels, tripartite operating environment, hierarchy levels, span of control, differentiation of labor, departmentalization, authority distribution, and accountability. From this assignment, I learned about the importance of organization design and its role in not only making the governance of libraries visible, but also as a tool for strategic planning.

Click here to read the paper.

MPA 660 paper, Nonprofit Sector: Survival of the Fittest

The fourth piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency B is a final paper from MPA 660 (Public Administration Integrative Seminar), Nonprofit Sector: Survival of the Fittest.  In this paper, I write about a video archive established by a nonprofit institution where I have been working for nearly 17 years—the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive. The archive was founded in 1994 as part of an independent nonprofit organization, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. During the first seven years of existence, the Foundation’s priorities shifted and, as a result, it went through a mission change. The nonprofit’s primary mission was to collect 50,000 Holocaust survivor testimonies before it was too late. Upon completion of this goal, the Foundation adopted a new mission: To overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the Foundation’s visual history testimonies. The new mission was announced in August 2001. By the example of the Shoah Foundation, the paper discusses the importance of flexibility of special libraries and archives in adapting to change and the challenges it faced during the adaptation process.

P.S.: The story of the Shoah Foundation continued since the time when the paper was written. In 2006, Shoah Foundation became part of College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences at University of Southern California, with its Visual History Archive gaining a prominent place at USC Libraries’ special collections. Now part of academia, the nonprofit’s mission changed again, though insignificantlyto account for the new parent institution: The mission of the USC Shoah Foundation is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the USC Shoah Foundation’s visual history testimonies.

Based on my work experience, and my previous Master of Public Administration coursework, this piece of evidence showcases my understanding of the importance of flexibility of organizational environments in special libraries.

Click here to read the paper.

Conclusion

In order to best serve their users and succeed in the dynamically changing environment of the 21st century, information institutions must take into account all elements of their environment: the internal library environment, the parent organizational environment, and the environment beyond the parent institution. The most important lesson I learned through my MLIS coursework, as it relates to organization environments in libraries, is that in order to be successful in support of  discovery, creation, and preservation of knowledge, building a community of critical consumers of information, and helping develop engaged world citizens, libraries must not only closely monitor what happens inside the library walls, they need to work in sync with their parent institutions, and stay tuned to the needs of the global learning community.

References

Evans, G. E., & Alire, C. A. (2013). Management basics for information professionals. Chicago, IL: Neal-Schuman, an imprint of the American Library Association.

Kaarst-Brown, M., Nicholson, S., von Dran, G. & Stanton, J. (2004). Organizational cultures of libraries as a strategic resource. Library Trends, 53(1), 33–53.

Rubin, R. E. (2010). Foundations of Library and Information Science. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Walter, S. (2008, October 1). The Library as ecosystem. Library Journal, 133(16), 28-31. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2008/10/academic-libraries/the-library-as-ecosystem/

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